Stop Sharing Stories From Websites That Steal My Work!
Love Lakeside, don't love thieves.
Whether you've lived in Denver for five minutes or fifty years, there's a pride that comes with being a part of the Mile High City. I should know: I spend a great majority of my time as writer sharing my thoughts and feelings on the city that raised me. I've written about why I miss the old Denver and made lists of Denver places that are great for an old-school summer and shared some things I think transplants should know when they move here. But there's one "Denver" feature I don't appreciate: Imfromdenver.com, a website that keeps stealing ideas and stories from real Denver writers like me.
Recently imfromdenver.com stole a story I wrote about about this Queen City on the Plains titled "Ten Things You Didn't Know About Lakeside Amusement Park" and re-published it without my permission (or that of Westword) and without giving me credit — much less paying me for my work. Then dozens of people shared Imfromdenver.com's stolen story on Facebook/Twitter/etc. — having no idea they were promoting plagiarism.
After a good friend sent me a message with a link to the story and a note that said, "I read this and it sounds a lot like something you would write, but your name's not on it," I took a peek. Sure enough, the site had lifted my story from westword.com word for word, along with photographs and captions. I contacted Westword editors, who contacted their lawyer — but I didn't wait for the cease-and-desist letter to go out. Instead, I immediately went to work shaming the shit out of imfromdenver.com, tweeting and posting on Facebook about the theft. And within an hour, the story was taken off the site. Did imfromdenver.com apologize or even acknowledge that it had done something wrong? Of course not, because that would mean owning up to illegal activity.
These websites are not unique to Denver; they are created for many topics and cities around the world. And some of them are even selling these cities to potential residents; real estate is featured prominently in imfromdenver.com. While other real-estate-oriented sites may not be stealing stories, they're still shady marketing tools. A site like Movato — which provides stories, however inaccurate, written by actual people — posted a very misleading piece last year titled "27 Things People From Denver Have to Explain to Out-Of-Towners" written by someone who clearly didn't live here. I responded with "27 Things Denverites Really Want Out-of-Towners to Know About the Mile High City," a piece I wrote with the input of several hundred of my Facebook friends. In another, less amusing instance, I was inspired to write about the gentrification of Denver's Northside after I stumbled on a realtor's blog explaining the history of the area's given name, Highland, in an effort by said realtor that was less about public education and more about making the area attractive to potential home buyers.
I'm not saying we here at Westword don't write lists — or listicles, as they are called in the biz — about Denver things; you can find these lists all over the site, in every section of our virtual publication. And I'm also not saying that we don't want you to come to westword.com and click around and read our work and, in the process, help pay our bills. That's how the Internet works: Clicks show how many people are reading the site, and maybe seeing those online ads. (For the record, westword.com writers are paid per story, not per click.) And I'm happy when you share my stories from westword.com, because the more people who read what I have to say — and know that I'm the one saying it — the better. But what bothers me about this cycle — the cycle that has sites stealing stories from hardworking writers like me, stories that you, dear reader, then sometimes share, adding insult to injury — is that the reason I write these things in the first place is because I LOVE DENVER.
Seeing a website brazenly steal the words I wrote about Lakeside Amusement Park — a place I care so much about that I try to shout about its existence at least twice a year — irritated me beyond belief. I didn't just whip up that list out of nowhere — I spent hours of digging to find more about Lakeside that I could share it with you. Every list and piece I write about Denver comes from my memories, my ideas and my research. I don't have any agenda here other than to tell the real story of the city I grew up in — and I don't make money from your clicks, unlike imfromdenver.com and other spammy websites. If I'm banking on anything from readers, it's exciting or enraging you enough to motivate you to do something to make your mark on Denver.
I've been writing since I was four years old. I grew up reading Westword. I went from being a George Washington High School newspaper reporter to a journalism student at Metropolitan State University of Denver to a writer who gets the opportunity to cover this city daily. When someone steals my work, it pisses me off. And when I see people I know blindly sharing that stolen work, it hurts my heart. The heart that loves Denver, but hates what imfromdenver.com is doing.
So while Westword's lawyers do their thing, you can take action, too: Choose what you share wisely. I know it's not always easy to tell when a website is a scam, but think before you like or share an article named something like "You Know You Are From Colorado When" or "Ten Things That Only People Who Live in Denver Understand." On the surface, there is nothing wrong with sharing stories that align with your hometown pride — but putting your stamp on stolen work from a spineless, crooked website doesn't look good. We can all be smarter consumers of media; we just have to take the time to do it.
Do it for Denver.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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